The Past Eight Months: A Short Novel / My Time in Meereen

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here.  There are actually a lot of things I haven’t been able to make time for since moving back to Buffalo, and I have trouble explaining why.  Yoga, guitar lessons, the urban farm I’d been working at, friends I used to see regularly and don’t anymore…  I could say that there are only so many hours in a week and I had hit the point where I couldn’t add any new activities without dropping some old ones.  I could say that living in a housing co-op is a much bigger investment of time and energy than I had anticipated.  I could say that being in a new relationship consumes a lot of my free time.  I could say that my job is keeping me busier than it used to.  Those are all true.  But somehow, it still doesn’t seem to add up to an adequate explanation.

Things are good but busy.  Time is passing very quickly.  It’s disconcerting.  It’s not a bad thing, necessarily—it’s certainly better than those days that dragged on and on while I had nothing to do at work and nothing particularly stimulating happening in my personal life.  I guess it just seems like when it rains, it pours.  Either I have no one to spend time with or more people in my life than hours in a day.  Either I have too much personal time or none at all; nothing to do or everything to do at once.  Such is life, I suppose.

Work has been a lot better than it used to be.  It’s BUSY, which is nice.  I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time anymore.  It’s stressful, but at least I’m doing useful things for people.  I’ve been using my Spanish a lot more lately and doing more real legal work.  The nature of working at a non-profit like mine is that my job description changes regularly based on what grants we get and where they need employees.  This is maybe the fifth different “job” I’ve had since I started working there four years ago, and so far it’s the best.

The co-op is difficult to explain.  It’s a huge component of my life right now, in lovely ways and stressful ways and always in worthwhile-learning-experience ways.  I’d known about this place for years before I applied to live there.  I remember that I had considered applying when my roommate M moved out of my last apartment, summer of 2011, but instead I found a roommate from Craigslist and stayed at my old place.  (Which was a lovely attic apartment with a garden and a fire escape and a gas stove and trees and a quiet neighborhood…  I put a lot of work into it, and it was hard to give up.)  In retrospect, I think moving to the co-op then would have been a much better life choice.  (It’s hard to say things like that, because it’s not like I can actually change anything now, and it’s also not that I discount all of my experiences from the past few years that I wouldn’t have had if I’d moved.  And we all know from movies like The Butterfly Effect that any little thing you change has far-reaching consequences you can’t really foresee.  Maybe if I had moved then, I wouldn’t have run off to a farm, and I wouldn’t have ended up dating R, etc.)  When I look back at those two years, summer 2011 to summer 2013, I think I spent most of it in some state of depression, in a dead-end relationship, grasping at anything that made me the least bit excited about life.  It wasn’t all a waste—I built my garden, joined that urban farm, learned to do yoga and play guitar—but it was time and energy that I think would have been better spent contributing to the co-op as a project to benefit the community and building relationships with the people in that community who share a lot of the interests I was starting to explore at that time.  It’s still good for me to live there now, and it’s still helpful, but I think it would have been even more so if I had done it when I was younger.

The co-op is a house.  The co-op is a community.  The co-op is a project that its members are building together to create a radical new housing model.  The co-op is a 130-year-old house that its founders bought at auction over ten years ago and spent years pouring their own sweat and blood into fixing it up to make it a comfortable, habitable living space for 14+ people.  The co-op is currently full of good people who are active in the community and tend to spread themselves too thin to be able to devote so much time and effort to this particular project.  Chores are often neglected, dishes go unwashed, painting projects lie half-finished for months.  Because I am who I am, I’ve been driving myself nuts trying to pick up the slack, and shirking my other commitments in the process (most notably the urban farm).

The co-op is a fish bowl, a microcosm through which to study human nature and how we can all get along as a society.  How can we motivate people to take personal responsibility for their surroundings?  Or simply to clean up after themselves?  Look at how much litter lines our streets, at the pollution in our waters.  This is a big, big problem.  I suspect we tend to disown our messes without thought, leaving it for someone else to clean up (our housemates or our descendants).  We keep contributing to the problem because to align ourselves with the people trying to solve the problem is too daunting to consider.  Why should I bother picking up the trash on my street when people will just toss more there tomorrow?  It’s hopeless.  However, I would think that on a small enough scale we could get everyone on the same page—we could all agree not to litter, or to do our own dishes, and we could keep to that agreement.  Right?  Apparently not.  How small is small enough?  15 people?  10?  5?

This is the frustration.

Despite the messes, my experience at the co-op has been overwhelmingly positive.  The best thing about the house, in my opinion, is the community that has grown up around it.  I’ve met so many amazing people through the house with such diverse interests: fire spinning, acroyoga, bread baking, homebrewing, African drumming, shibori, foraging for edible plants, Gamelan music, polyamory, undocumented activism, fixing up bikes, ASL, etc.  It’s great to be able to share these things with each other, and it’s nice to always have people around the house for movies or porch hangouts or whatever.  It’s also fantastic to have a delicious dinner ready for you when you get home from work or school most nights and to be able to share it with these people.  Beats the pants off eating pasta alone on the floor again.  One of the best aspects for me, which has sort of crept up on me, is the feeling of being part of something worthwhile even in my off time.  Even when I’m eating, sleeping, or cleaning my room, I’m saving a house, I’m building community, I’m contributing to the co-op and fighting the forces in the world that are constantly trying to concentrate power in the hands of the few; i.e., fighting the good fight.

…However, I must confess:  The city is not where I really want to be anymore.  I came back here looking at this year in my life as a waystation, a brief stop between trains for other places, and it’s hard to be too deeply invested that way.  I AM still invested, because that’s just how I am—I can’t NOT be invested—but not in as profound a way as I might have been had I taken this step earlier in life.

Part of me is questioning the wisdom of coming back here at all.  This time hasn’t exactly played out like I’d envisioned it.  I had pictured myself spending a LOT of time reading and researching to prepare myself for my next steps in life, traveling more, hating my job more, playing more music, taking more guitar lessons, and being more involved at the urban farm, among other things.  I mean, I know that my plans have to be flexible to accommodate whatever life throws at me.  I may not be learning what I intended to learn right now, but I’m learning other valuable things, mostly about relationships and community and co-op life.  And maybe that will play into wherever I end up in a positive way as well.

I am wary of letting Buffalo pull me under.  This place has a lot of inertia for me, and inertia is dangerous when you want to go places and do other things.  I’m so busy all of the time that it’s easy to avoid thinking about the long-term future or big plans or life changes; there’s enough to focus on in my everyday life without those things.  I don’t want to miss out on a life that would be more meaningful to me in exchange for a life that is stable and easy to fall into.  I still want to leave.  My soul misses trees and water and crickets and sky, pretty much constantly.  I’m tired of the parking tickets, the random vandalism, the drunk people screaming on street corners.  Where I’m envisioning myself, at least right now, is out in the country somewhere with a community of relatively like-minded people growing our own food and living as cooperatively and as far off the grid as possible.  I’m sure that will evolve.  But either way, I can’t stay in Buffalo.

I finally finished reading A Dance With Dragons, the last-for-now book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, in April, and this passage toward the end really grabbed me.  Spoiler alert, etc.

Meereen was not her home, and never would be. It was a city of strange men with strange gods and stranger hair, of slavers wrapped in fringed tokars, where grace was earned through whoring, butchery was art, and dog was a delicacy. Meereen would always be the Harpy’s city, and Daenerys could not be a harpy.

Never, said the grass, in the gruff tones of Jorah Mormont. You were warned, Your Grace. Let this city be, I said. Your war is in Westeros, I told you.

The voice was no more than a whisper, yet somehow Dany felt that he was walking just behind her. My bear, she thought, my old sweet bear, who loved me and betrayed me.  She had missed him so. She wanted to see his ugly face, to wrap her arms around him and press herself against his chest, but she knew that if she turned around Ser Jorah would be gone. “I am dreaming,” she said. “A waking dream, a walking dream. I am alone and lost.”

Lost, because you lingered, in a place that you were never meant to be, murmured Ser Jorah, as softly as the wind. Alone, because you sent me from your side.

“You betrayed me. You informed on me, for gold.”

For home. Home was all I ever wanted. “And me. You wanted me.” Dany had seen it in his eyes.

I did, the grass whispered, sadly. “You kissed me. I never said you could, but you did. You sold me to my enemies, but you meant it when you kissed me.”

I gave you good counsel. Save your spears and swords for the Seven Kingdoms, I told you. Leave Meereen to the Meereenese and go west, I said. You would not listen.

“I had to take Meereen or see my children starve along the march.” Dany could still see the trail of corpses she had left behind her crossing the Red Waste. It was not a sight she wished to see again. “I had to take Meereen to feed my people.”

You took Meereen, he told her, yet still you lingered. “To be a queen.”

You are a queen, her bear said. In Westeros. “It is such a long way,” she complained. “I was tired, Jorah. I was weary of war. I wanted to rest, to laugh, to plant trees and see them grow. I am only a young girl.”

No. You are the blood of the dragon. The whispering was growing fainter, as if Ser Jorah were falling farther behind. Dragons plant no trees. Remember that. Remember who you are, what you were made to be. Remember your words.

“Fire and Blood,” Daenerys told the swaying grass.